Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation
Main content start

Business schools must also teach students to be role models in society, education leaders say

As the world contends with extraordinary disruption, education leaders from the U.S. and China shared how their schools are responding to these crises.

Post-pandemic, don’t expect it to be entirely back to business as usual at some of the world’s leading business schools.

Instead, education leaders at Stanford, UC Berkeley and Hong Kong University see their curriculums leveraging the flexibility virtual learning can provide while also incorporating a renewed sense of purposefulness in addressing some of the problems that the pandemic and recent social movements have amplified.

At a virtual panel discussion on Oct. 15 entitled “The Future of Business Education in the U.S. and China,” hosted by Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) and the Stanford King Center on Global Development, the leaders addressed how the pandemic has forced profound changes in how their institutions operate.

For Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, who delivered the opening remarks, there have been two key lessons to emerge from this past year that he believes will transform Stanford, and the school’s contributions to the world, in the long-term.

“The first is an increased focus on accelerating the application of knowledge,” Tessier-Lavigne said, pointing out that when COVID-19 came to California in the early spring, Stanford researchers rapidly pivoted to respond to the medical, epidemiological and societal dimensions of the pandemic. “This model of accelerating the application of knowledge has promise across countless fields of research.”

The second lesson was how the pandemic has forced a bold experiment with moving operations online.

“From remote education to telehealth to work from home – faculty, students and staff have found new ways to study and work this year. The opportunities that this provides to make education and health care more accessible long after COVID has subsided have tremendous potential, at Stanford and beyond,” Tessier-Lavigne said.

Discoveries in remote learning

speaker screenshots
Jonathan Levin, dean of the GSB, along with Ann Harrison, dean of the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, and Hongbin Cai, dean of the Business School at Hong Kong University, discussed how the pandemic has forced profound changes to how their institutions operate.

Following Tessier-Lavigne’s remarks, Jonathan Levin, the Philip H. Knight Professor and dean of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, moderated a panel discussion with Hongbin Cai, the dean of Hong Kong University (HKU)’s Business School and Ann Harrison, the Bank of America Dean of the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.

They explored in greater detail how the switch to online are transforming some of their programming, including how it has increased greater flexibility and accessibility.

Over the past year, Cai has found that integrating online learning into the school’s curriculum has been an effective way to bring together people from different parts of the world.

“Some of the technology and the remote teaching method will be used in the future to provide different types of interaction and access,” Cai said, adding that remote learning has been practical for some students, particularly those enrolled in the school’s part-time executive MBA program. These students, who are typically senior executives, appreciate the flexibility the online format provides.

Levin, Cai and Harrison do not see online learning replacing traditional, in-person classroom settings entirely. Cai emphasized that face-to-face learning will still be core to HKU’s business curriculum.

For Levin, the pandemic has served as a reminder of how valuable the classroom experience is and the “visceral desire” people have to interact with one another.

“The research discussions that happen in a hallway, the serendipitous collisions where relationships get formed and ideas get generated – it’s sort of an affirmation of the business model of residential education, even as we see the positives of all the virtual interactions,” Levin said.

Harrison also shared another lesson she and her colleagues discovered in making the switch to virtual learning: they found that students prefer smaller class sizes. While there are some classes that can be taught at a larger scale, a more intimate setting is also needed to create a successful learning environment, she said.

“The smaller the classroom, the more the student engagement and the more effective the class is,” Harrison said, emphasizing that “less is more” when it comes to adopting remote teaching in the future. “This idea that we are going to move to these large classrooms with the star professor and thousands of students – it’s not happening,” she added.

Embracing social change

The pandemic, accompanied also by a rise in economic inequity, the Black Lives Matter movement and California’s recent devastating wildfires, have also heightened awareness of social, environmental, racial and economic issues in the world.

“It’s been such an unusual, and in many ways, a difficult year,” said Levin. “Both the pandemic and the fact that we’ve had to shift online and adopt technology and organizational change in ways like never before and to go through all these social upheavals, different in our respective cases, but profound in our case in issues of race and inequity … it’s such a complicated time to navigate.”

Levin said he has seen more Stanford students concerned about how their careers and professional lives can serve a greater purpose. They are increasingly asking what impact they can have on the world.

“Going through a global crisis like this really causes you to focus hard on questions like that,” said Levin, adding that the GSB is providing students with more opportunities to learn how to be effective leaders not just on an organizational level, but in society-at-large.

Similarly, HKU has had to deal with ongoing political protests. Cai said that the university is the ideal place to provide an environment to discuss pressing issues. He said he hopes that in the future, schools can also be proactive in how they cultivate a culture of diverse perspectives.

“I think universities have a bigger responsibility in creating an environment and community where people can mutually respect each other. Here in Hong Kong, people talk about academic freedom, especially in light of the national security law, but I believe the university can do a lot in terms of building a solid foundation around certain principles and bringing people together from different backgrounds.”

Cai, Harrison and Levin all emphasized the importance of international collaboration between the U.S. and China and the value that adds not just to the economy, but to their college campuses as well.

While Chinese researchers have come under scrutiny in the U.S. recently, Levin said he is worried that “what should be a narrow consideration about individual behavior has expanded to cast a broader shadow on Chinese students.”

Levin emphasized the importance of having Chinese and international students and how those diverse perspectives contribute to a thriving intellectual community.

“It’s a great thing for our institutions because it creates a much better learning environment for everyone and there are just so many opportunities to be exposed to people from different cultures to get different ideas. It’s exactly what education is about,” Levin said.

The entire session is available to view on YouTube.